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10 tips for staying safe online during lockdown

By Martyn Landi

With lockdown in effect, people are spending more time online, whether working from home or to stay in touch with friends and family.

The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has launched a Cyber Aware campaign, offering advice on how to stay safe during the extra time online, and when using new apps for the first time, including video conferencing platforms such as Zoom.

Here are the top 10 things the Cyber Aware campaign recommends:
– Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a free security feature offered by many apps and websites as an extra layer of protection when logging in to an account.

It works by asking you to provide a second piece of information – normally a code sent as a text to the phone number linked to the account – when logging in to prove who you are.

The NCSC encourages people to check the various online services and accounts they care about most, such as email and social media, for 2FA, or multi-factor authentication as it is sometimes known, and turn the feature on.

– Create a strong password of three random words
Using weak or common passwords is the easiest way to get hacked, so internet users should instead look to create longer passwords made up of three random but memorable words.

In online security, the longer and more unusual a password is, the stronger it becomes and therefore is harder to guess or hack.

– Create a separate password for your email account
A user’s personal email account is likely to contain a lot of important information about them, as well as being a gateway to all their other online accounts.

Therefore, it is recommended that internet users create a separate, strong password for their personal email account.

This can help better protect not just their main email, but the trove of personal information and other account details likely to be linked to it.

– Always keep software up to date
Computer software, from a PC or smartphone’s operating system to the apps running on it, works at its best and most secure when kept up to date.

So it is important to always install updates when prompted or turn on automatic updates.

Cyber criminals often exploit weaknesses in software and apps as a way to access personal data, but updates regularly fix these weaknesses, so user data cannot be accessed.

– Save passwords in your browser
It is important to use different passwords for all your online accounts; however, remembering all of them can be difficult.

To counter that, many web browsers offer secure password saving, so users can store their passwords and not have to remember and re-enter them every time.

– Back up your data
If one of your devices is ever hacked, it is possible that personal data on it could be lost, damaged or stolen.

Ransomware attackers can also lock a device or access to data unless users agree to pay a ransom to release it.

To combat these issues, users should ensure they keep a copy of their important information and data by backing it up.

Many operating systems and apps offer ways to do this as part of their service.

– Only install apps from trusted sources
When downloading any new software or app – such as video conferencing software – always ensure that the download is from a trusted source such as an official app store or the manufacturer’s website.

Do not click on links sent to you from random individuals or on unusual websites, as these could lead to fake versions of an app.

– Understand what you are paying for
The free version of many apps, including video calling services, can provide adequate security settings for personal use if correctly configured, and therefore should not be feared as sub-standard versions of an app.

Moving on to paid subscriptions for online services only needs to be considered if a user feels their needs and situation justify it.

– Do not make video conferencing meeting details public
Never share meeting details on social media or other online forums, and only connect with people directly through your existing contacts list or another official source.

Where possible, add a password to your meeting so only those with the details are able to access the meeting.

– Consider your surroundings before starting a video call
If you are taking a video call at home, consider what else will appear in the scene behind and around you which could be sensitive or personal.

Consider changing the background or using a background image to protect your surroundings.

Many video calling services have a test feature which allows users to preview what they will look like when on a call, and what others can see.

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